Ascension St. John Hospital in Detroit Receives $2M for Infectious Disease Research

Detroit’s Ascension St. John Hospital has received a $2 million gift from a community member to expand its Infectious Disease Research Program. Design work on the new center has started, and construction is expected to be completed in late March.
Ascension St. John Hospital
Thomas Mackey has donated $2 million to expand Ascension St. John Hospital’s Infectious Disease Research Program. // File photo

Detroit’s Ascension St. John Hospital has received a $2 million gift from a community member to expand its Infectious Disease Research Program. Design work on the new center has started, and construction is expected to be completed in late March.

Thomas Mackey, 85, of Grosse Pointe Farms, who made the gift, has been treated at the hospital, most recently from Dr. Miriam Levine, an infectious disease specialist.

“It’s the right thing to do at the right time, and I’m fortunate to have the means to help,” says Mackey, who also gave $1 million for a new hybrid cardiac catheterization laboratory at the hospital. “Those who are blessed with great wealth have an obligation to give back and help others.”

While the hospital had already seen a need to enhance infectious disease research efforts, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted an expansion of the program earlier than initially planned.

“Mr. Mackey’s extremely generous support comes at a time when our needs in infectious disease care and research are greater than ever,” says Dr. Louis Saravolatz, chair of the department of medicine for the hospital and a professor at Wayne State University’s School of Medicine. “Mr. Mackey’s gift is greatly appreciated by the Department of Medicine and will have an impact in our community for many years to come.”

The center will be named The Thomas Mackey Center for Infectious Disease Research, and its mission will be to perform research to improve the clinical care of patients and serve the community by providing diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive strategies against serious infectious diseases.

“Mr. Mackey is a great example of a patient who is very appreciative of what doctors have done for him,” says Dr. Kevin Grady, president of Ascension St. John Hospital. “After learning about his interests and willingness to donate a substantial gift, we created a program he was looking to support for the greater good of the community. We couldn’t be more grateful to Mr. Mackey.”

The clinical research area will provide a home for clinical studies involving new therapeutics and vaccines against infectious diseases, including COVID-19. It will allow for the development of new testing methodologies for the treatment and prevention of infectious diseases.

The existing lab has worked on research and molecular testing for years.

“COVID has pushed us in a new direction,” Saravolatz says. “We’ll continue working in the other areas plus expand with COVID research in this new center.”

The new center will be located adjacent to the clinical research area in the Mack Office Building on the hospital campus and have capacity for more staff and the performance of additional studies. Its proximity to the clinical area is designed to enhance collaboration between laboratory and clinical personnel, and the center will provide opportunities for training.

“There will be areas for research nurses, data managers, office data staff, clinical researchers, associates, and physicians working together in a clinical research arena,” Dr. Saravolatz says. ​“The potential for expanded capabilities and enhanced collaboration among physicians in the Division of Infectious Diseases and other specialty areas should stimulate new ideas and growth in research activities.​”

The infectious disease program has expanded, with six staff recently being added in the clinical arena. They will be involved in COVID-19 vaccine trials and other aspects of COVID research.

“Our hope is to move the Division of Infectious Diseases forward to coordinate our laboratory and clinical research in a way we haven’t been able to do in the past. This will hopefully help us participate in more clinical trials that will better serve the community,” says Dr. Leonard Johnson, program director and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, vice chair of the Department of Internal Medicine, and a professor at the WSU School of Medicine. “This expansion is taking us to the next level, and we are grateful to Mr. Mackey for his gift that will permit us to do more.

Ascension is based in Warren and operates 16 hospitals and hundreds of related health care facilities that employ more than 23,000 associates. Across the state, it has provided more than $311 million in community benefit and for those living in poverty in fiscal year 2020. Ascension has served Michigan for more than 140 years. It is one of the leading nonprofit and Catholic health systems in the U.S., operating 2,600 sites of care.

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